With Lebanon’s first election since the 2006 July War presently scheduled for Sunday, August 5, 2007 pundits and observers are dizzy with speculations. Some go as far as to say that this special election to fill the seats of the two recently assassinated Members of Parliament, Pierre Gemayel (son of Amin) and Walid Eido, will determine Lebanon’s foreseeable future.
The leading candidate in in the Mount Lebanon Christian District of Metn is former President Amin Gemayel. He sees the by-election as a means to reclaim the seat of his slain son, Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel. The Free Patriotic Movement [FPM] headed by MP Michel Aoun considers the by-election a means to measure its popularity (as part of the opposition led by Hezbollah) on the Christian political scene.
“It’s a referendum on Bush, Siniora, Hariri and Hasan Nassrallah” one Gemayal campaign worker opined. The issue is whether the opposition, led by Hezbollah and comprised of Christians, Shia and some Sunni, can defeat the Saudi and Welch Club- supported Hariri group, of which Gemayel is a part.
According to a statement by one Beirut District Two candidate made on July 28, 2007, the Welch Club, through certain Saudi contacts, channeled vast sums during the past few months to support the Majority Government and weaken Hezbollah. Part of that money is expected to fund the pro-government campaigns in the two districts.
Announcing his election less than two weeks ago on July
17, 2007 Gemayei, who gained stature in the eyes of the
public for his comments at his beloved son’s funeral ( in
contrast to Samir Geagea and Wallid lumblatt’s thinly
disguised calls to hang Syria’s Bashar Assad and Lebanon’s
Shia,) quipped ” Its not everyday in the middle east that
the father succeeds the son” His audience chuckled for they were mindful that sons, Barshar, (Syria) Abdullah (Jordan) Mohammad ‘ VI (Morocco) Gamel (Egypt), Islam (Libya) Abdullah (Saudi Arabia) and countless other Middle
East dynasties, sons succeeding fathers is indeed the
Even with the sympathy vote, the Metn District looks tough for the Bush administration even though it is 80 per cent Christian and former President Amin Gemayel is the favorite son.
Three recent polls are worrying the Welch Club. One shows Gemayel losing Metn by 5,000 votes, another one shows him losing by 8,000 votes and the most recent one released today shows a 20,000 vote loss. The Welch Club reckons that if Gemayel can win on August 5, they will immediately run him for President in September.
One problem the Israel lobby sees with Amin Gemayel is that although he has been involved in Lebanese politics for nearly 30 years, he is still untested in a competitive election at the ballot box. Some in Lebanon call Amin the ‘professional inheritor’; he inherited his seat in Parliament from his father Pierre, then inherited the Presidency of Lebanon when his brother Bachir was murdered, then inherited the leadership of the Phalange Party when his father died, and now he stands to inherit another seat in Parliament as a result of his son’s death.
The other seat to be decided on August 5 is Beirut’s Second district. Recently it has been a March 14 / Future Party Sunni area, where during the 2005 elections 47 per cent of the Sunni voters turned out, 34 per cent of the Shia, and 10 per cent of the Christians. The low Christian turnout was caused by the Armenians and Maronites who supported Michel Aoun, generally boycotting the election. The Second District Seat has been pro-Hariri since the 2000 election when the murdered Walid Eido first won it with the help of the murdered Rafic Hariri.
Hezbollah is not participating in the by-elections because it considers the Siniora government illegal and President Lahoud has not signed off on the special election as required by Lebanese law. Nonetheless, every voter knows which candidate they would like to see win.
Beirut’s Second District campaign brings to mind Tammany Hall and Richard Daily Sr.’s Chicago. This weekend boxes filled with internationally donated food, clothing and household items (meant to aid last summer’s war victims but instead stored in warehouses) are being dusted off and Future Movement (Hariri) labels hastily pasted over the names of the donor NGO’s and governments. These gift parcels are being handed out only to voters who support the US backed Siniora government and who are known to be pro-Hariri voters. Opposition and pro-Hezbollah voters will receive none of the July War donated relief parcels, even though Beirut’s Second District was not bombed by Israel.
Another Second District Pro-government electioneering technique, widely used in the 2005 election in Christian areas North of Beirut, and elsewhere, is the $100-600 per vote bribe. Several campaign workers explained to this observer how the system works. Any voter willing to sell his vote goes to the Future Movement (pro-Siniora/Feltman government) campaign Headquarters. The voter picks up an Official Interior Ministry Ballot Envelope.These are illegally made available to pro-Government Future Movement Campaign HQ. Under Lebanese law the envelopes are only to be issued to voters as they enter the polling station and pick up the blank ballot while observed by poll watchers. The corrupt Ministry employees make them available to Saad Hariri’s organization a week before the election. The voter is given an envelope by Hariri staff which the vote seller secretes on his person. When the voter goes to vote the election official gives the voter a ballot and envelope. Once in the booth, the voter marks his ballot and puts it in the Hariri envelope and seals it. The voter hides the other envelope in a pocket etc. The voter exits the voting booth and inserts it in the ballot box slot.
The voter then goes to Hariri HQ presents the other envelope proving he voted and is paid the bribe in cash. In District Two, where this practice will be most in play, there are 234 Vote Boxes used in 15-20 polling stations.
Locals say this technique works best in close elections because only about 5 per cent of Lebanese voters are willing to sell their votes.
In addition to brochures, radio and TV spots and sound trucks, this election features some none too subtle slogans and billboards. The Hariri-financed Future Movement has as its slogan for Beirut: “Beirut is a Red Line” Among its meanings is “‘Shia Not Welcome”‘ because this is strictly a Sunni area.
Another pro-government billboard shows just 4 tombstones to remind voters of the four murdered MPs from Beirut.
The opposition has countered these billboards with their own saying “lack of electricity is a red line” and “lack of clean drinking water is a red line”, inadequate health care and poor schools are a red line.”
Known in the Middle East for their political sophistication and knowledge of what’s happening in the region the local electorate in this by-election appears interested in discussing the following national-international issues:
* whether the Siniora Government conspired with the Bush administration to prolong the destruction of Lebanon during the July war;
* why the Bush administration is now sending weapons to Lebanon for the Siniora government (for use against Hezbollah?) when a year ago they were rushing them to Israel for the same purpose;
* why the American Embassy is touting the 25 per cent increase in military aid to Israel knowing the weapons will likely be used again against Lebanon;
* why the US government was planning to build a mega–Embassy on the property it bought in 2005 for $22 million near the Baabda Presidential Palace where some say it planned to control Lebanon’s president while spying on nearby Hezbollah. According to State Department spokesman Sean McCormick, on July 7, 2007 the State Department suspended the project after Feltman advised Washington that Hezbollah controlled the Baabda region and could cut the roads to the Embassy whenever it wanted. McCormick’s reasoning seemed a little bizarre since any number of groups could do the same thing with the roads leading to the current Embassy site.
* why the US Embassy refuses to order the Israelis to stop their violations of Lebanese airspace and deliver landmine and cluster bomb maps so the numbers of civilians being killed and wounded from unexploded ordnance will decrease’.
Conditions in Iraq are an issue as more Iraqi refugees come to Lebanon. One out of every seven Iraqis have fled the US invasion. Oxfam reports this week that there are also more than 2,000,000 internally displaced Iraqis, and that 60 per cent of the Iraqis registered to receive food and water are not getting it, and that more than one-third of the Iraqi population is in urgent need of aid.
As the summer heat draws citizens to the beaches, last summer’s oil spill is an emotional issue because the Lebanese coastline remains heavily polluted from last year’s Jiyyeh oil spill and cleaning efforts have not achieved the desired result. The ominous new information was issued by the NGOs Green Line and Bybios Ecologia on the first anniversary of Israel’s bombing of the Jiyyeh power plant, which dumped about 15,000 tons of crude oil into the Mediterranean.
“The beaches are still very toxic,” said Richard Steiner, a conservation specialist from the University of Alaska. “The oil spill is more toxic than other known spills.” He concluded that Lebanon’s rocky beaches were still heavily polluted, with much oil still embedded in the rocks. While sandy beaches fared better, Steiner said some oil remained under the sand and on the sea bed. Steiner collected samples from 120 kilometers of shoreline. Ali Darwish, president of Green Line, also criticized the government and the ministry.
Dr. FRANKLIN LAMB is an international lawyer and author of “Israel’s War in Lebanon: Eyewitness Chronicles of the Invasion and Occupation.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org